As the preview for the fight acknowledges, this was heavily touted as the likely finals for the Heavyweight division of TUFII, before Rashad Evans upset both fighters on the taping of the show. You didnít read the title wrong here, either Ė this is at 205lbs, which is a HUGE weight cut for Whitehead especially who was fighting at over 250lbs before this. Interestingly enough, of the nine Heavyweights who fought on the show, six of them have since cut to 205lbs to fight in the UFC. Thatís another reason for the poor state of the HW division I guess.
They circle to open and Whitehead gets an early double leg into the fence, but Jardine defends well from his back and quickly works his way back to his feet. Whitehead grabs a leg for another takedown, and then gets another double leg down into Jardineís guard, passing into half-guard. Keith defends well from his back again, works his way back into guard, and looks to escape. He manages to stand back up, and then breaks off, where Whitehead swings his way into another single leg attempt. Jardine stuffs it this time and then lands some kicks and some solid punches to end the round.
Jardine opens the 2nd with some nice jabs and combos, before Whitehead comes forward and gets a takedown to guard. Whitehead works to pass, but Jardine defends from the bottom and then rolls for a heel hook, but Whitehead gets out swiftly. Jardine uses the opportunity to stand, and they break off. Whitehead comes forward swinging, but Jardine lands some crisp counters from the outside, and Whitehead goes for the takedown again. He puts Jardine on his back once more, but Keith again works to stand and they break off and exchange from distance, with Whitehead looking tired, as Jardine starts to land a variety of punches and knees to close the round off. This is looking like Jardineís fight to lose at this point.
They circle to open the third and final round, and both exchange some good punches, before Whitehead looks for the takedown again. Jardine blocks and they break off once more, with Keith landing a nice right hook and a front kick to the body. Whitehead comes in with an elevating takedown to guard, but Jardine defends well from his back again, not allowing Whitehead much offense, and then works his way back to his feet. They exchange strikes standing now, with Jardine definitely getting the better of it and tagging Mike a few times. Whitehead tries one final takedown, but Jardine blocks and ends the fight with a flurry.
We go to the judges, and unsurprisingly, Keith Jardine gets the unanimous decision.
Letís be honest here Ė Zuffa has to be happy that that fight wasnít the TUF HW finale. This was a really uninspiring fight, with neither man doing that much to impress. The difference was Jardineís excellent ground defense, as he nullified any offence Whitehead hoped to bring from the top, and on the feet he at least landed the crisper strikes and was able to tag Whitehead once or twice. Overall though, a yawner to open the card with.
Hinkle was coming off a victory over Sean Gannon in his UFC debut, while the politically controversial Monson (though I wonít get into that here) was making a return to action after four years away from the UFC cage, riding a thirteen-fight winning streak.
Monson shoots in for a takedown to open, but Hinkle blocks and gets on top in Monsonís guard. Jeff reverses from the bottom quickly, getting a single leg and going into side mount, where he controls Hinkle with some knees to the side. Hinkle tries to escape, and Monson looks to spin over and take his back, but Hinkle reverses out now, and gets on top in a side mount of his own. He lands a couple of grinding elbows, but Monson works to stand. Hinkle lands a couple of decent punches, but Monson shoves him into the fence and then lands a right hand. They go into the clinch, and Hinkle tries a guillotine, but Monson avoids and scrambles on top into side control, before landing some elbows and moving into north/south, where he gets what basically looks like an inverted arm triangle choke (I think itís called the DíArce choke, but donít quote me on that) and Hinkle ends up passing out rather than submitting. Scary end to the fight as Hinkle doesnít even know where he is or whatís happened as he comes round.
Impressive performance from Monson for his return, and his combination of wrestling and submission skill make him a threat to most in the HW division, but his questionable stand-up skills and equally questionable cardio (I feel heís carrying WAY too much muscle on a small frame) mean that I canít see him making a title run any time soon.
Aldana was coming into his UFC debut with a record of 5-0, but with the total of those fights being under five minutes, and his competition questionable at best, many felt this was too much, too soon for ĎEl Peligrosoí. Buentello meanwhile was looking to rebuild himself following an unsuccessful challenge at Andrei Arlovskiís Heavyweight Title.
They begin and Buentello fires off a sloppy spinning back kick, but Aldana grabs a waistlock and shoves him into the fence. They WILDLY BRAWL on the fence, and Buentello rocks him with some HARD UPPERCUTS and then tosses him to the mat! Aldana comes back up and they exchange more uppercuts and body shots in close, with Buentello landing the better punches. Buentello suddenly NAILS him with a nice left high kick to the head, clearly hurting Aldana, and follows up with a knee before shoving him to his ass. Buentello looks to close in for some ground and pound, but then changes his mind and backs off, letting Aldana back to his feet. Gilbert looks hurt and badly gassed at this point, and Buentello lands a telegraphed spin kick to the body, but misses the follow-up uppercut. Despite the tiredness, Aldana still comes forward aggressively, but Buentello begins to counter him well now, landing some stiff shots as Gilbert comes in. Suddenly the tide turns though, as Aldana catches a low kick and nails Buentello with a counter, putting him down! Aldana follows down into Buentelloís guard, then somehow takes Paulís back, but he looks confused as to what to do, and Buentello escapes to standing in the clinch. They break quickly and Buentello comes in with another spinning kick to the body, before OPENING UP with a series of vicious uppercuts along the fence, bloodying Aldana up and hurting him bad to end the round.
Into the 2nd, and Buentello opens with another spin-kick, before Aldana pressures him into the fence. Buentello lands some more hard uppercuts to hurt Gilbert again, as he looks exhausted and unable to mount any offense of his own. Buentello trips him down, and then goes into a side mount, where he begins to drop forearms and elbows. It looks for a second like heís considering a straight armbar, but then decides to stick to the pounding, and after a few moments McCarthy comes in for the stoppage.
Good performance from Buentello to weather the early storm Aldana brought in. Gilbert was wildly aggressive and looked to have some power, but you canít expect to finish a guy like Paul Buentello in a matter of seconds like Aldana had the rest of his opponents, and when Aldana was sucking wind around a minute and a half in, it was clear that there was a big gap in talent levels here. Still, Aldanaís aggression made for an exciting if incredibly sloppy fight, and heís set to return at UFC 61.
This fight was originally slated for the undercard of UFC 55, but when Ian Freeman pulled out they bumped Sinosic up the card to fight Forrest Griffin, and Sakara was left to fight Ron Faircloth in a fight where he looked impressive, showing some excellent boxing and ground-and-pound, before being stopped with a groin strike causing a no-contest.
Sakara comes right out and shows his boxing skill, landing some body shots into a clinch, before delivering a nice throw to half-guard. Elvis gets full guard back quickly, but Sakara lands some punches and forearms from the top before the official stands them back up. Sakara lands another combination coming forward into the clinch, and Elvis quickly falls down to guard. Sakara works the ground and pound some more with the elbows, but this time he gets called on the use of a downward elbow strike, and the official docks him a point. Whoa, no warning? They get stood again, and this time Sakara comes forward with a vicious left hook to stun Sinosic, before Elvis pulls guard again. Sakara pounds away with a mixture of punches, forearms and elbows, and Elvis is busted open at this point, the blood pouring out of his face matching his red hair. The ref stops things to check the cut, but itís judged that he can continue and Sakara pounds away to end the round.
Into the 2nd, and Sakara opens with another fast combo into the clinch, before getting a takedown to guard. He lands some elbows from the top as Elvis looks cut badly at this point. Into half-guard, and then side mount for Sakara, but Sinosic works back to full guard, only to eat some more vicious shots from the top. This is becoming difficult to watch as Sinosic barely offers any defense whatsoever to the strikes. The official stands them up as Sakara slows down, but that doesnít help Elvis either as Sakara lands a vicious combo that has the Aussie reeling, before getting another takedown to guard. Sakara works him over from the top again, but once more the official ends up standing them and Sakara presses with a combination from the restart, before getting yet another takedown to end the round.
Third and final round, and Sakara lands another combo, but Elvis pulls guard and Sakara is more than willing to carry on abusing Sinosic in the guard, working him over with more elbows and forearms as Elvisís face is a crimson mask at this point. The official stands them up and Sakara lands a couple of vicious left hooks to rock Elvis, before getting another takedown to guard. More forearms follow before they get stood again, and true to the formula, Sakara lands another combo then takes him down again. The crowd begin to boo at this point, as Sakara continues to pound away, before Elvis tries his lone offensive move in the fight Ė a kneebar attempt that Sakara avoids to end the fight. Post fight Elvis is a bloody mess, while Sakara looks like heís done a warm-up session in the gym.
To the judges, then, and thereís simply no question as to whoís winning this one. And yep, Sakara picks up the unanimous decision despite losing the point in the first. A lot of online fans were complaining when UFC didnít show this one on PPV, but thank God they didnít Ė not only would it have provided plenty of fuel for the anti-MMA camps, as Sakara beat Elvis into a bloody pulp over a drawn-out fifteen minutes, but it was boring as hell, as rather than try to finish Sinosic standing, Sakara chose to take him down continually and just pound him in the guard. The rumor was that Sakara thought heíd broken his hand in the first round and thatís why he took Elvis down, but whatever the reason, it made for a less than exciting fight. Still, a solid performance from Sakara.
This was one of the most highly anticipated fights on the card, as despite both coming off losses (Diaz to Diego Sanchez, Riggs to Matt Hughes), both men are exciting up-and-comers and the winner would definitely see their stock at Welterweight rise. Riggs, thanks to the re-involvement of Billy Rush, was able to make weight comfortably for this one.
Diaz blocks a high kick attempt to open, before shooting in only for Riggs to block the takedown and shove him onto his back. Diaz rolls quickly for an armbar attempt, but Riggs avoids and they come back up into the clinch and muscle for position, before Riggs shoves him away. Diaz presses forward with Riggs looking to counter, landing a couple of nice combos, and they go into the clinch and exchange, where Riggs lands a hard right to the face. They continue to work in the clinch, before Diaz suddenly breaks off and catches Riggs with a big right to the top of the head, dropping him to his knees! Riggs looks stunned and shoots in for a takedown, but Diaz captures him on the way in and rolls for a kimura, only for Riggs to roll right through into a kneeling position. Diaz grabs a Thai clinch, but canít knee due to Riggs being on his knees, and so Riggs stands and Diaz tags him with a left hand as they break off. They both land some good combinations, as Diaz begins to talk trash at him ala his fight with Robbie Lawler. They continue to exchange in and out of brief clinches, before Riggs shoots in, but ends up on the bottom, where Diaz works the body to end the round. That was close, but Iíd give it to Diaz based on the knockdown and a few other good shots.
The exchange continues to begin the 2nd, and Riggs lands the better punches, bloodying Diaz up around the nose early. Riggs lands a big left hook, and follows with another combo, before blocking a takedown attempt. Diaz continues to press the action, playing the aggressor, but Riggs counters well, landing two more swift combinations. Diaz clinches and works the body, but Riggs breaks off and fires a big left hand that Diaz manages to block nicely. Diaz comes back with a crisp one-two that catches Riggs, and then taunts him as they continue to exchange. Riggs gets a takedown to guard, and Diaz immediately throws his legs up, looking for a submission, but Riggs shows good positioning and avoids, only for Diaz to roll for a kneebar. Riggs manages to escape, and then lands some elbows from the top, as Diaz tries an armbar to end the round. That was another close round, but Iíd give it to Riggs based on more damage and more shots landed (despite Joe Roganís commentary which is ridiculously biased towards Diaz at this point).
So itís come down to the final round. Diaz presses into an early clinch, but Riggs muscles him off, only for them to go back into a clinch and exchange, where Diaz bloodies up Riggsís ear. Back out, and Diaz presses, and shoots in for a takedown, but Riggs blocks and they come back out and exchange. Diaz blocks a takedown now, but Riggs comes back with a good combination and then finishes the takedown, only for Diaz to pop back up and eat another solid combo from ĎDieselí. They exchange in the clinch momentarily, before Riggs breaks off with another combination, and then Diaz throws some flashy hopping kicks to end the round.
Eddie Bravo has it 29-28 Riggs, same as myself, and the judges agree, unanimous decision for Joe Riggs. Really fun fight that was actually much better on a rewatch than I remembered it being. The commentating from Rogan makes it annoying though, as he yells about everything Diaz lands, while basically ignoring Riggsís strikes and concentrating on how tired Riggs looks from the huge weight cut. Still, this was an impressive performance from both men, I thought, in a fight that couldíve gone either way.
The announcers actually call Sobral outright the #1 Contender for the LHW Title before the fight, so for all intents and purposes this is like the way Chuck Liddell fought Babalu himself while Ortiz defended his title against Shamrock in the main event back at UFC 40. General consensus here was that Babalu was too well-rounded for the excellent wrestler Van Arsdale. Oh, and no offense meant here, but I donít see how the announcers can call Van Arsdale ďthe best wrestler in UFC historyĒ with a straight face, especially as theyíve had a legitimate Olympic Gold Medallist (Kevin Jackson) fight numerous times!
They get underway and Babalu fires off a quick leg kick and then forces Van Arsdale back into the fence on a clinch. Nothing happens though so the official breaks them, and Van Arsdale lands a good right hand. Babalu grabs the clinch again, looking for a takedown, but Van Arsdale reverses with a whizzer and gets into side control, looking to secure the crucifix position. Babalu works his way free and then slips out underneath Van Arsdale, taking his back, and before long getting both hooks in. Van Arsdale looks in trouble, and Babalu wastes no time, securing a rear naked choke for the tapout.
Quicker and easier win for Babalu than I was personally expecting, he basically tooled Van Arsdale once the fight hit the mat, though I think a lot of fans (myself included) may have been overrating Van Arsdale based on his performance against Randy Couture. Babalu then is clearly the #1 contender to Liddellís title at this point and he will get his shot in August, but whether he can get Liddell to the mat for long enough to attempt a sub is another matter.
This was Mirís big return bout after well over a year out recovering from a horrific leg injury (snapped femur) that he sustained in a motorcycle accident while he was still the UFC Heavyweight Champion. It was pretty much unknown what kind of condition Mir would be in for the fight, as heíd put off his return numerous times and was sporting a steel rod in the leg from the surgery. His opponent, Marcio ĎPe De Panoí Cruz had made both his UFC and MMA debut at UFC 55, choking out Keigo Kunihara, and although most fans were picking Mir in a rout, I actually picked the Brazilian based on him being a better grappler, and Mirís striking never looking too impressive to me.
They begin and Mir immediately comes forward looking to strike, but Cruz tries a single leg takedown. Mir manages to block, but his repaired leg buckles and he stumbles, allowing Cruz to swing his way into a clinch. Mir gets a good takedown and gets on top, looking to drop elbows, but Cruz reverses from the bottom quickly, getting a single leg and then putting Mir on his back in half-guard. Mir looks for a kimura, but Pe De Pano gets out pretty easily and then lands a big punch to the face, opening a big cut over Mirís eye, and follows it up with some nice elbow shots to make the cut worse. Mir starts to wince as Cruz pounds away at the cut, and the amount of blood quickly multiplies, causing Herb Dean to stop the fight to check the cut. Mir tells the doctor he canít see, but then decides to fight on anyway, and they restart in Mirís half-guard with Cruz controlling him from the top, and picking up right from where he left off, pounding away at the cut with punches and elbows. Mir looks in trouble as the round goes on, a bloody mess at this point as Cruz just continues to work him over, and at just over four minutes Deanís seen enough and he calls the fight, TKO for Pe De Pano. To say the crowd are deflated would be an understatement.
Post-fight Cruz uses his translator to talk to Joe Rogan, dedicating the fight to the late Carlson Gracie.
Obviously this was a major, major upset to most fans, but personally I was never in doubt that Cruz was going to win. A healthy Mir couldíve been a different story, sure, but a guy known for his grappling, with tons of questions surrounding his recovery from a major, career-threatening injury, against the one guy in the division whoís a better grappler than him was a pretty easy one for me to pick. It was obvious from the off that Mir was both mentally and physically in no shape to be fighting here, and after this disappointment, heís scheduled to make another return at UFC 61. Hopefully, for the good of the division, heís in better condition than he was here, as thereís no denying that he has a lot of talent to offer. A sad return for him.
On the flipside though, this was a very impressive performance from Pe De Pano. Sure, he was fighting a guy who probably shouldnít have been in the cage at that point, but regardless, it was only Cruzís 2nd MMA fight and he was able to take out a much more experienced fighter in an extremely impressive manner. Cruzís control from the half-guard was especially phenomenal, and although he needs a LOT of work on his striking, I think he could be a force in the HW division in the future.
After an impressive UFC debut win that saw him knock out Fabiano Scherner with knees, Brandon ĎThe Truthí Vera was quickly labelled by many fans as the next big thing in the Heavyweight division, despite only weighing 225lbs and clearly being able to cut to Light-Heavyweight. The fact that Vera cut a charismatic promo post-fight didnít harm his bandwagon, but on paper, with top-class wrestling, a brown belt in BJJ, and an evidently excellent Muay Thai game, he certainly has the tools to live up to the tag. On the other hand, Eilers, his opponent here, had been given the Ďfuture starí tag over a year earlier, only to see that star fall after losing in vicious fashion to both Paul Buentello and Andrei Arlovski. After knee surgery following the Arlovski fight, he was looking for redemption here.
Eilers comes out swinging early, and lands a couple into a clinch where they muscle for position. Nothing really happens so the official breaks them up, and from there Vera lands a couple of good mid-level kicks, before landing a BIG HEAD KICK to stun Eilers, who falls forward, right into a CHARGING KNEE!~! Eilers hits the deck face first, and Vera follows with a right hand, but itís clear that Eilers is out already. Jeeeesus, that was a vicious one.
Bad quality picture I know, but hey, thatís the definition of a highlight reel knockout. Post-fight Vera cuts ANOTHER charismatic promo, ending by inviting the crowd to attend his wedding on the next day. Did I ever mention that this guy RULES? In case you havenít guessed, Iím firmly on the ĎTruthí bandwagon.
Many online fans felt that a third fight between Liddell and Couture was too soon, especially as both men had only fought once between this and their last clash, but for the casual fans it clearly wasnít an issue, as this broke UFC buyrate records with ease. Most people I know were picking Liddell here based on Coutureís less impressive win over Mike Van Arsdale at UFC 54, but Randy certainly had his fair share of supporters too. As you can imagine, the crowd heat is OFF THE CHARTS here. Big pop for pretty much everything, but the crowd seems a bit more pro-Randy.
They get underway, and Liddell looks to constantly keep moving as they tentatively jab. Couture takes the center of the Octagon and presses the action as both throw careful, tentative punches, pretty uneventful actually. Couture keeps coming forward, but finally Liddell catches him with a good right hand and Randy looks stunned momentarily. Liddell comes forward aggressively now, and Couture comes forward too, but Chuck lands a big overhand right and a good uppercut, only for Couture to charge him down and get the takedown! Roof blows off the place for that one, but Liddell uses the fence to stand back up, and keeps his base as Couture gets double underhooks and tries to bring him down again. Coutureís nose is bloody now as he tries to bring Liddell down, moving over to the other side of the Octagon, but Liddell manages to stay up as the round ends. Couture looks battered between rounds, with a bloody nose and a cut somewhere over the eye too.
They come out for the 2nd the way they began the first round, with Couture pressing forward. He lands a good right hand, but Liddell quickly fires back with one of his own. Randy keeps coming forward, but then slips on the mat, and thatís all the opportunity Liddell needs as he NAILS Randy with a big right to the jaw to drop him, and quickly closes things off with punches on the mat.
Pretty uneventful fight if you take away the crowd heat and the huge occasion of it all, but it certainly wasnít boring or anything. In fact you could say it was a longer version of their second fight, minus the eye-poke spot. Liddellís footwork and movement was so much improved that the ageing Couture simply had no answer for it, but donít get me wrong, this was still a hugely impressive win for Chuck.
Post-fight the big story occurs, as Couture announces his long-rumored retirement from MMA in a highly emotional moment. What can you say that hasnít been said about this, really? Randy will certainly be missed as you probably couldnít find a better ambassador for the sport, but I think he definitely went out at the right time. One of *the* true greats in MMA. Pretty sad way to end the show, as Randy had just been KOd, but it was done in a really classy manner and just gave the show more of a special feel.
Annd, we end with a highlight reel.
This probably wonít make the shortlist for show of the year when they come out in December, but that doesnít mean it wasnít a really good one, anyway. There are no FOTYCs, and a couple of the prelim fights are a bit slow, but once you get onto the main card everything is watchable, and thereís a couple of really fun finishes with Vera/Eilers and Babalu/MVA, too. The main event isnít anything special really, but Coutureís retirement announcement makes this a really historically significant show, and thatís enough for a recommendation as it is.
Pride: 9, 10, 11, 18, 28 and 29.
UFC: 18, 20, 21, and 58, 59 and 60.
Cage Rage: 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15.
WFA: 1, 2 and 3.
King of the Cage: 18, 23, 30 and 32.
Best of Shooto 2003 vols. 1 & 2.